Creating a Culture of Safety at Your Treatment Facility

Safe practices are built right into work procedures and team members’ attitudes at the Glenbard Wastewater Authority.
Creating a Culture of Safety at Your Treatment Facility
After flowing through the four final clarifiers like this one, wastewater passes through 10 sand filters.

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Look around any workplace and the safety materials are hard to miss. There are safety posters, videos, course announcements, booklets, stickers, tip sheets and more.
But safety takes more than that. True workplace safety requires action. At the Glenbard Wastewater Authority in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, employees have worked for more than three years without a major lost-time injury.

That earned the facility the George Burke Jr. Safety Award from the Central States Water Environment Association and a Water Environment Federation Safety Award for 2016, but the accomplishment didn’t stop there. As of November 2016, the authority had reached 1,300 injury-free days, and even that was not a record. “Our previous record is 1,680 days,” says Gayle Lendabarker, executive secretary. That ended in 2009 with a shoulder injury.

It takes a culture

The secret is straightforward: “You have to create a safety culture,” says Erik Lanphier, the authority’s executive director. “You get people to commit, you educate them, and then you continuously support their efforts. Safety has always been one of our top priorities.”

Since he started working at Glenbard in 1999, there has been an active safety review committee, an initiative of a former manager who came from an industrial background and wanted to apply the safety lessons he learned. “I really bought into safety,” Lanphier says. “I’ve been in this industry since 1989. I know the hazards of it. I’ve seen people get hurt in it. I’ve been hurt in it.”

The Safety Committee includes a representative from each department. Each meeting has a formal agenda and includes discussions about safety and what each department is doing.

Employees can submit safety suggestions, and near misses and unsafe conditions are reported.

“We also reward the employees,” Lanphier says. “Every two months we give people a $20 gift card for not having any lost-time injuries. And we do that with local businesses so our money is recirculated through the community.”

Anyone can submit a safety suggestion, and the safety committee evaluates each one. Employees receive points for making suggestions, and the number of points governs the size of another gift card they can earn.

Any suggestion that shows an immediate risk to health and life is turned into a report of an unsafe condition. That report first goes to the employee’s supervisor, who must sign it, and then to the most appropriate person to fix the problem, who also must sign. Remedial work must be done within 48 hours.

The authority also holds tailgate events, in which a group assembles to address one issue. For example, as the time approaches for maintenance on the UV disinfection system, a supervisor may review the process of pulling out the lamps and dipping them in a solution of 85 percent phosphoric acid to remove fouling. New employees go through a checklist of training videos covering topics from use of personal protective equipment to electrical and vehicle safety.

Heading off danger

Glenbard takes near misses seriously, and fortunately they are infrequent. At some facilities, a near miss may be a reason to reprimand an employee. Glenbard sees it differently. Near misses are discussed openly at staff meetings. If employees know that near misses will not mean disciplinary action, they feel free to report them so that dangerous conditions or behaviors can be corrected.

About a decade ago, the time came for a regular UV lamp inspection. “I thought we had safety glasses on the door that were UV protective,” Lanphier says. “So I put on the safety glasses, and for eight hours I was looking at UV bulbs. By about 2 o’clock, I felt like there were pins being pushed into my eyeballs. I couldn’t see, so one of the guys took me to an optometrist. He told me I had essentially sunburned my eyes. Fortunately that’s a short-term problem, but it does make you realize that you can’t take safety for granted. Safety is not a given. It’s something you have to work for.”

That sort of incident qualifies as an unsafe condition, requiring remediation. All the safety glasses now have UV-protective coatings.

Team makes it work

The credit for the authority’s safety record belongs to the entire plant staff, which includes:

  • Erik Lanphier, executive director
  • Gayle Lendabarker, executive secretary
  • David Goodalis, operations superintendent
  • Operators Chris Dillmann, Andy Pakosta, Joe Kovac and Jason Neighbors
  • Richard Freeman, electrical superintendent, and Joseph Solita, plant electrician
  • Philip Dziewior, instrumentation technician
  • Jay Dahlberg, maintenance superintendent, and mechanics Jon Braga, Henry Altott and Austin Cecelia
  • Laurie Frieders, environmental resource coordinator
  • Matt Streicher, assistant director and engineer
  • David Peters, lab technician

The same team ensures that the treatment process performs efficiently and that the plant consistently meets its permit. The team does considerable work in-house. Solita, for example, has an industrial background and is comfortable doing long conduit runs. Freeman is in charge of the SCADA system, helped develop it, and can write code for it. “Having such expertise on site has saved the authority about $150,000 during the last two years,” says Lanphier.

UNOX helps the process

Wastewater comes to the plant from the villages of Glen Ellyn and Lombard, an unincorporated area of DuPage County, and Illinois American Water, a private water services company. Water moves to the plant through a 60-inch line. After the water passes through bar screens (Headworks International), a pair of pumps (Flygt - a Xylem brand) lift it to provide gravity flow through the rest of the primary process. Influent next reaches the grit building with a vortex separation system (Smith & Loveless) and a grit classifier (Huber Technology).

After passing through the two primary clarifiers, wastewater flows into a high-purity oxygen activated sludge process that helps ensure a high dissolved oxygen level in the effluent discharged to the DuPage River, locally classified as an impaired waterway. The 10-train, four-stage UNOX deck, equipped with Lightning mixers, is fed with oxygen from a Union Carbide 32-ton-per-day cryogenic oxygen plant on site. The covered basins and the process itself effectively control odors, and some homes are as close as 30 feet from portions of the plant.

After passing through carbonaceous BOD reduction and a set of intermediate clarifiers, Archimedes screw pumps (Lakeside Equipment Corporation) send water back to the UNOX deck for second-stage aeration. The eight trains in the second treatment stage reduce ammonia. After flowing through the four final clarifiers, water passes through 10 sand filters before UV disinfection (Ironbrook UV Corp).

Biosolids are gravity thickened and then fed through belt presses (Alfa Laval Ashbrook Simon-Hartley). The authority can store 2,000 cubic yards on site. The material is land-applied.

Informing the public

Glenbard maintains good relations with plant neighbors and customers. “Instead of taking a problem to a village board, neighbors are not hesitant to call here first when they have a question,” Lendabarker says. “That shows the rapport we have with the community.”

When trucks haul biosolids, the authority sends letters to surrounding homes, mainly those on the main access road, and posts the information on its website. The team encourages residents to sign up for the plant’s email service. “We do a lot of tours here with schools, from elementary schools through college,” Lanphier says.

The authority works with the Glen Ellyn Environmental Commission on projects that include a drive to encourage grocery stores to stop using plastic bags, suggesting solar-powered trash compactors for the central business district, and establishing a rain barrel purchase program.

Future projects

The authority has just let bids for a $17 million project that will install a new lower wet well with pre-rotation basins to increase the flow velocity in incoming lines. The project will also install new variable-speed Flygt pumps. Another phase will be replacement of the tertiary sand filters with disc filters (Kruger).

As part of a working group for the DuPage River, the authority will contribute more than $2 million to improving the watershed. That includes projects such as removing dams and in general working to recreate the stream flows that existed before urbanization. Both villages are on board with this initiative.

“When you really think about who is responsible for the streams, no one is responsible for the streams unless you get one of these groups involved,” Lanphier says. “We believe we should work toward fixing what is broken rather than spend more tax dollars on point source discharge solutions that we are not sure will work.”

Two governments, one service

The Illinois villages of Glen Ellyn and Lombard sit next to each other about 19 miles straight west of downtown Chicago.

They are lost in a suburban landscape where one community blends into the next, yet they are not at all the same as their neighbors, because years ago city leaders created an agreement that led to a single wastewater treatment plant serving both communities. The authority is wholly owned and controlled by the governments that established it.

“I’ve found only one other wastewater authority in the state, and it is run much differently than we are,” says Erik Lanphier, executive director of the Glenbard Wastewater Authority.

The initial agreement to share services was signed in 1968, and the impetus for it was the development of the southern part of Lombard.

That section of the village is almost opposite the site of the present wastewater plant, and without cooperation, Lombard had no way to move wastewater to its own treatment plant on its north side. In 1978, the two villages officially created the Glenbard Wastewater Authority, and in 1984 they set up an executive oversight committee on which each community is represented by the village president, one trustee, the village manager and the Public Works director.

The villages review their agreement periodically. They review the overhead fees annually because the authority pays the village of Glen Ellyn, the lead agency, for personnel services and other expenses. “These two communities are diametrically different,” says Lanphier. “Glen Ellyn is home rule and Lombard is not. Lombard is unionized and Glen Ellyn is not.”

The authority structure enables the communities to work together for one purpose despite their differences. Once a month, leaders of the communities meet and solve common problems. That creates an attitude that can be expanded to other issues both face. It helps the authority staff, too, because they hear the ideas and approaches of both governments, Lanphier says.

All that positive energy has not gone unnoticed. The authority has received calls from other local governments that want to copy its successes, such as the safety program. Says Lanphier, “That’s the intent: to take that positive energy and hope other people will bite into it.”


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